Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Robotic arm probes chemistry of 3-D objects by mass spectrometry

26.03.2014

Proof-of-concept study could soon allow analysis of early earth chemistry on meteorites and other rocks

When life on Earth was first getting started, simple molecules bonded together into the precursors of modern genetic material. A catalyst would have been needed, but enzymes had not yet evolved.


The scientists programmed the robotic arm to poke the sample with an acupuncture needle.

Credit: Rob Felt.

One theory is that the catalytic minerals on a meteorite's surface could have jump-started life's first chemical reactions. But scientists need a way to directly analyze these rough, irregularly shaped surfaces. A new robotic system at Georgia Tech's Center for Chemical Evolution could soon let scientists better simulate and analyze the chemical reactions of early Earth on the surface of real rocks to further test this theory.

In a proof-of-concept study, scientists selected a region for analysis on round or irregularly-shaped objects using a 3-D camera on a robotic arm, which mapped the 3-dimentional coordinates of the sample's surface. The scientists programmed the robotic arm to poke the sample with an acupuncture needle. The needle collected a small amount of material that the robot deposited in a nearby mass spectrometer, which is a powerful tool for determining a substance's chemical composition.

"You see the object on a monitor and then you can point and click and take a sample from a particular spot and the robot will go there," said Facundo Fernandez, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, whose lab led the study. "We're using an acupuncture needle that will touch very carefully on the surface of the object and then the robot will turn around and put the material inside of a high resolution mass spectrometer."

The research was published online February 28 in the journal Analyst, a publication of the Royal Society of Chemistry. The work was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) grant and by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA Astrobiology Program, under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution.

Mass spectrometry is a powerful tool for analyzing surface chemistry or for identifying biological samples. It's widely used in research labs across many disciplines, but samples for analysis typically have to be cleaned, carefully prepared, and in the case of rocks, cut into thin, flat samples. The new robotic system is the first report of a 3-D mass spectrometry native surface imaging experiment.

"Other people have used an acupuncture needle to poke a sample and then put that in mass spec, but nobody has tried to do a systematic, three-dimensional surface experiment," Fernandez said. "We are trying to push the limits."

To show that the system was capable of probing a three-dimensional object, the researchers imprinted ink patterns on the surfaces of polystyrene spheres. The team then used the robotic arm to model the surfaces, probe specific regions, and see if samples collected were sufficient for mass spectrometry analysis. The researchers were able to detect inks of different colors and create a 3-D image of the object with sufficient sensitivity for their proof-of-principle setup, Fernandez said.

The research was the result of collaboration between Fernandez's group, which specializes in mass spectrometry, and Henrik Christensen's robotics group in the College of Computing. Christensen is the KUKA Chair of Robotics and a Distinguished Professor of Computing. He is also the executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM) at Georgia Tech.

"The initial findings of this study mark a significant step toward using robots for three-dimensional surface experiments on geological material," Christensen said. "We are using the repeatability and accuracy of robots to achieve new capabilities that have numerous applications in biomedical areas such as dermatology."

"It doesn't happen very often that a group in mass spectrometry will have a very talented robotics group next to them," Fernandez said. "If we tried to learn the robotics on our own it could take us a decade, but for them it's something that's not that difficult."

Christensen's team loaned a Kuka KR5 sixx R650 robot to Fernandez's lab for the study. Afterwards, Fernandez's lab purchased their own robot from Universal Robots. They have also upgraded to a new mass spectrometer capable of resolution nearly eight times higher than the one used in the study. They will soon begin replicating early Earth chemistry on rocks and analyzing the reaction products with their robotic sampling system.

"We really want to look at rocks," Fernandez said. "We want to do reactions on rocks and granites and meteorites and then see what can be produced on the surface."

The technology could also be applied to other research fields, Fernandez said. For example, the robot-mass spec combo might be useful to dermatologists who often probe lesions on the skin, which have distinct molecular signatures depending on if the lesion is a tumor or normal skin tissue.

###

This research is supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) under the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) (Grant number 0923179), and by the NSF and NASA Astrobiology Program under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution (CHE-1004579). Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agencies.

CITATION: Rachel V. Bennett, et al., "Robotic Plasma Probe Ionization Mass Spectrometry (RoPPI-MS) of Non-Planar Surfaces." (Analyst, February 2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c4an00277f

Brett Israel | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.gatech.edu

Further reports about: 3-D Earth Evolution NSF Robotic acupuncture mass reactions surfaces three-dimensional

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences

nachricht Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists
07.12.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>